The Tenderness of Pain

I like having a plan. 

Nothing is more satisfying than making plans, having all the details sorted out, knowing what will happen, seeing it happen, and then celebrating that the plan was executed. 

It's not that I can't pivot and respond to unforeseen circumstances, mind you.  But usually, I've already thought of most of the unforeseen circumstances ahead of time and have at least formulated something of a contingency plan if the unforeseen becomes seen. 

Over the past few years, however, I've been learning what it means to live in the tension of uncertainty, even though I crave the exact opposite.  

The reason for this?  Well, I've finally figured out that no amount of planning can account for the unexpected, and even when I think I've accounted for it, the unexpected always shows up. 

I have had more than a few times in my life when I had no idea what to do as I watched my well-thought-out plans go up in smoke.  Sometimes, it's something minor, like a plan for the tasks I hope to accomplish in a day, and I suddenly find myself sidetracked by an emergency.  

But the plans that hit the hardest when they fall apart are those I have held dear for a long time, maybe even years.  

An example of one of those plans was the one I had for my family when we moved to Texas some years ago.  My parents moved with us, and the plan was to find or build a house where we could all live together. 

In what seemed like a miracle, we found a perfect house on the very street where we'd been renting.  For a while, the plans and dreams I'd had felt like they were coming together, and I was so happy.  

And then my mom passed away not even a year later.  

Things were never quite the same after that, and it took a long time for me to realize that all those plans I'd had were never going to happen.  I grieved all of it for a long time, and it took me until this past year to really reconcile with it. 

The feeling that I felt most intently as I wrestled with the loss of those plans was a feeling of being lost.  I felt unmoored, without an anchor, and set adrift.  

But I slowly learned over time that I had begun to find myself again in the pain of that loss.  The pain taught me about who I was, even though it was hard to understand then.    

There's this super interesting quote from the renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron that goes like this: 

When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to leap, this is the time when healing can be found in the tenderness of pain itself. 

While we can't go through life without ever feeling pain or loss, we can discover healing as we let our pain instruct us rather than choosing to leap away to make it stop any way we can.  

I'm about to offer up a Star Trek moment as an illustration.  Don't judge. 

In Star Trek: The Final Frontier, Captain Kirk delivers an amazing line to the film's antagonist, Spock's brother, Sybock, who can take away painful memories from people.  

To which Kirk replies: 

“You know that pain and guilt can't be taken away with the wave of a magic wand! They're the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don't want my pain taken away, I need my pain!”

I've always loved that line, even though the film wasn't my favorite in the Star Trek anthology.  As it turns out, we need our pain to help us heal, so much so that Pema Chodron described it as "tenderness."  

I feel that God is always present with us, but we feel that presence more when we are in pain- if we are willing to sit with it and allow it to instruct us.  

Let yourself learn from the pain you feel and not run from it.  May you find God in it, and allow yourself to be healed.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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